Levy reform urgently needed

A national approach to levy pricing, adoption of the levy portability principle by all jurisdictions, and more transparent management of levy funds are urgently required, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council. 

Waste or landfill levies are a key regulatory tool used to improve recycling and fund environmental liabilities from waste generation. They have a significant effect on both the commercial environment of nearly every waste and recycling business and community behaviour. They also generate significant amounts of funds for each jurisdiction. Therefore, carefully considered levy regulations nationwide are essential to advancing Australia towards a circular economy.

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has recently undertaken a review of the current status of waste and landfill levies across Australia (see www.nwric.com.au). It examines by jurisdiction, how much the levies are, what waste types are levied, where and when they apply, how they are administered, the amount of funds raised each year and how these funds are spent.

It also analysed the impacts and benefits of these levies on waste and recycling outcomes across Australia and identified a number of issues that need to be addressed urgently to ensure the levies achieve what they were set out to do and not drive waste down the hierarchy.

Waste/landfill levies were first introduced in 1971 by NSW at a $0.56 per tonne. Since then South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland have introduced levies. In 2018-19 rates ranged in price from $0 to $250 with an estimated $1.13 billion raised. In 2019-20 this is expected to increase to $1.54 billion with the introduction of the waste levy in Queensland. This will equate to approximately $58 per capita per year, up from $39 per capita per year in 2018-19.

Of the $1.13 billion funds raised in 2018-19, an estimated $282 million or 25 per cent nationally was reinvested into activities relating to waste and recycling, state EPA’s or climate change (in the case of Victoria). At a state level the reinvestment rate of the levy ranged from 10.9 per cent in NSW, 25 per cent in WA, 66 per cent in Victoria to 73 per cent in South Australia. Funds not reinvested were either retained in consolidated revenue (as in the case of NSW and WA) or retained in nominated funds such as Victoria’s Sustainability Fund, SA’s Green Industries Fund or SA’s Environment Protection Fund where some of the funds may be invested in various non-waste or recycling related environmental activities.

In 2019-20 it is estimated that of the $1.54 billion in funds raised, around $569 million or 37 per cent will be reinvested into waste and recycling activities. This increase can largely be attributed to the Queensland government’s commitment to reinvest over 70 per cent of the levy, with local councils receiving 105 per cent of their levy contribution

On the positive side, the levies have increased resource recovery over time and enabled the commercial development of local resource recovery businesses including material recovery facilities, processing facilities for plastics, paper, cardboard, glass, timber, organics, alternate waste treatment plants and waste-to-energy facilities for fuel manufacture, thermal and electricity generation.

The levies have also funded various waste and recycling initiatives. These range from state EPA and local government environmental compliance activities, community and business waste and recycling education campaigns, research and development, data collection, construction of new infrastructure by local government and private enterprise, to cleaning up waste and pollution generated from illegal actions.

On the negative side however, differentials in levies across regions and between states has created a levy avoidance industry, both legal and illegal, resulting in potentially recyclable material ending up in landfill, and hazardous material being disposed of inappropriately. This has become big business particularly in NSW and WA due to the significant variability of levy rates for solid, hazardous and liquid wastes. It is estimated that between 1.5 million to three million tonnes of waste has been transported per annum either significant distances to landfills where levies do not apply, dumped into the environment, stockpiled or in the case of hazardous wastes hidden or mislabelled to reduce or avoid state levies.

Key learnings from this analysis are the vastly different approaches states and territories take to levies. This ranges from how much is charged between regions and states, what wastes are levied (e.g. solid, liquid, hazardous or prescribed) and how they are defined, where liability for the levy is charged, how the levy is administered and how levy funds are managed and reinvested into activities to improve waste and recycling practices and reported on.

Of major concern is the lack of transparency in most jurisdictions of how many funds are collected per year, how and where they are invested in waste and recycling activities and assessment of the effectiveness of the investment in achieving waste and recycling strategies and targets.

The NWRIC believes there is an urgent need to reform the current state levy structures, pricing, administration and investment management. It is critical this reform is done in a coordinated manner between all state and territories to remove interstate inconsistencies that are clearly driving poor waste disposal behaviours contrary to the objects of the levy to increase resource recovery and environmental protection.

This will be the only way to ensure the best return on investment of levy funds in delivering better waste management and resource outcomes expected by the community.

This article appeared in the October edition of Waste Management Review, some figures have been changed. 

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Waste export bans are one part of the solution

The Prime Minister’s August announcement to ban the export several waste types is a welcomed development. It has the potential to reboot local reprocessing and markets for recovered materials, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council. 

First, just the facts. As part of the Council of Australian Governments communique on 9 August 2019, the Prime Minister, along with the states and territories announced:

“Leaders agreed Australia should establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres – while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand.”

Further, the communique also said:

— “Leaders agreed the strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics,”

— The government will work to; “decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste,”

— “The strategy should draw on the best science, research and commercial experience, including that of agencies like the CSIRO and the work of Cooperative Research Centres.”

These developments are a decisive push in the right direction. However, there are two key elements that need to be addressed to achieve its intention of stopping waste being dumped in developing countries, and stimulating Australia’s resource recovery industry.

These two elements are: building markets at home and clearly specifying how waste paper, plastic, tyres or glass must be processed to become a resource suitable for manufacturing.

Building markets at home

In regard to building markets, two key priority materials stand out. The first is plastics. In order to use the plastics we currently export at home, we will need to increase domestic reuse of plastics by more than 180,000 tonnes per year. To use those plastics here, every Australian would need to purchase products that contain an additional seven kilograms of recycled plastic per year. This still only represents seven per cent of the total plastic waste produced by Australians annually.

Using plastics in civil infrastructure will help. Examples include street furniture, decking by local councils and railway sleepers such as the recent project by Sustainability Victoria, Integrated Recycling and Metro Trains. Integrated Recycling say more than one million railway sleepers in Australia need to be replaced, so just creating railways sleepers from mixed plastics could create a market for up to one quarter the plastics we previously sent overseas.

However, clearly higher end markets for plastics are also desirable, especially putting PET and HDPE back into packaging. These higher end markets will create the necessary pull to stimulate development of Australia’s reprocessing capacity and the collection systems to ensure quality material.

The second market is tyres. According to the Federal Department of the Environment and Energy, Australians generate in excess of 400,000 tonnes of end of life tyres per year. Plenty of scope remains for creating local markets for tyre derived products. Key products produced from tyres include rubber crumb, or explosives and adhesives. Likewise, waste tyres can become high quality engineered fuels for local or export markets.

Positive procurement by local and state governments as well as businesses including the waste and recycling industry is also urgently needed. As consumers of products and materials we must match our rhetoric with action by preferentially purchasing products with recycled content.

Clear specifications and definitions necessary

Clearly, the intention of these bans is to stop the export of unprocessed waste to countries that do not have the ability to process it responsibly. So to untangle this problem, the first step is to have a clear definition of waste.

State and Territory EPAs have done preliminary work in this area as part of their domestic landfill bans, which identify certain goods and materials that should be processed and not buried. Examples include whole baled tyres, whole cars and white goods, all of which are banned from landfill in South Australia.

The next step is to define and agree nationally what minimum material specifications must be met before each waste material type becomes a resource suitable for manufacture locally or overseas.

To some this may seem simple, but in reality it is quite difficult as currently each state and territory have a different approach to this problem. For example in NSW, ‘Resource Recovery Exemptions and Orders’ are used. In Queensland, there is an ‘end of waste (EOW) framework’ of the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011.

This divergence in approaches will need to be resolved urgently, as national agreement on ‘waste’ and ‘resource’ definitions will be key for the COAG’s national ban on the export of waste paper, glass, plastics and tyres is to be successful.

In closing, this approach should also be harmonised with the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, which has recently expanded its scope to include various plastics. It should be noted that the Australian Government has yet to ratify these latest changes to the Basel Convention.

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Location, location, location essential to the future of C&D

Construction recyclers do most of the heavy lifting in Australian recycling, but several stones remain in the gears to drive its future, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

The trend isn’t hard to spot, behind the successful recycling strategy of any city are construction and demolition (C&D) recycling companies recovering large material volumes. C&D waste generation in 2016-17 (the latest year available) was just over 20 million tonnes nationally, or 38 per cent of the waste produced in Australia by weight.

Recovery of C&D materials across major urban centres can be as high as 90 per cent. So C&D recyclers have taken a hard problem, and over the last decade, have thoroughly crushed it.

Despite this welcome progress, many stones remain in the gears that drive its future development.

In 2019, the NWRIC undertook a survey of key C&D recyclers to determine barriers to advancing recycling in this sector. Our research identified six key areas for improvement:

  1. Implementation of effective specifications for the use of recycled aggregates in infrastructure construction
  2. Competition with virgin products
  3. Inconsistent landfill levies and insufficient enforcement resulting in levy avoidance
  4. Planning frameworks which often fail to provide certainty of site tenure
  5. Poor waste data that can inhibit policy and investment decisions
  6. Market economics that inhibit greater recovery of C&D materials in regional areas

While several of these challenges are self-explanatory, a few are worth discussing in detail.

The first is that local and state land use planning can fail to provide the site tenure required for some of the state’s highest performing C&D recovery facilities. This is a major challenge, as for C&D recovery facilities to be financially sustainable, they must be set close to urban centres where the waste materials are generated and eventually reused. Minimising transport distances is a key driver to the success of these facilities.

Likewise, these facilities require a reasonable footprint to be able to manage the flow of materials through the process; from receival, sorting, processing to stockpiling the various grades of final products ready for reuse.

Unfortunately, many of these sites across Australia are being threatened by encroachment of urban or commercial development, and in some cases, are being closed by local councils to create parks.

To solve this problem, the NWRIC recommends that current waste and recycling infrastructure plans that provide for C&D recycling be formally incorporated into local and state planning regulations, so that precincts or green zones for such facilities are clearly identified and protected for the long term. To be effective, the location and duration of tenure of these ‘green zones’ must be agreed by all levels of government.

A second major challenge is waste levy avoidance in the C&D recovery sector. Construction recyclers charge a gate fee to cover the cost of sorting and processing the materials they receive. This gate fee must be lower than the cost of landfill. To reach this cost, typically a landfill levy is required.

Unfortunately, where there are landfill levies, there is also levy avoidance resulting in potentially recyclable material being dumped or transported vast distances outside levy zones. One prominent example is the illegal waste stockpile in Lara, Victoria. This site contains a massive stockpile of up to 320,000 cubic meters of construction and demolition waste, including materials such as timber, concrete, bricks, plaster, glass and ceramics.

If one cubic meter weighs half a tonne, then this stockpile represents a loss of more than $10 million in levy revenue.  To clean up this illegal dump of C&D waste, the Victorian Government has committed $30 million, the largest waste related budget item for Victoria in 2019.

To ensure the success of the C&D recovery sector, states must address levy avoidance urgently. Possible solutions include better inter-agency engagement (across Police, EPAs and the ATO) to monitor and prevent illegal activity, and more widespread use of regulatory tools like mass balance reporting and GPS tracking.  Setting levies so any differences do not encourage its movement from one region or state to another, or applying the levy portability principle (i.e. the levy liability is a point of generation not disposal) both within and across state and territory boundaries.

Finally, C&D recovery providers can also help to support other recycling streams, including the recovery and reuse of tyres, glass and used plastics. Where these products are not suitable for cradle to cradle recycling, they can be reused as a substitute material for civil construction works. This further diversifies the market opportunities for these recovered materials, which in the past have relied on limited opportunities locally and internationally, ended up in landfill or illegally dumped.

This is why integration of state resource recovery infrastructure plans into local and state land use planning regulations is critical to the future success of C&D resource recovery. By securing space and long term tenure for these facilities states and territories will ensure a viable industry that can supply materials to the ongoing infrastructure development and construction needs of Australia.

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Reviewing the PSA

Waste Management Review explores the Product Stewardship Act review and industry expectations for the final report. 

Since the Federal Government Product Stewardship Act (PSA) was introduced in 2011, the dynamics of the waste and recycling sector have changed dramatically locally and overseas.

Waste management and resource recovery businesses have been forced to adapt and so has legislation and state and territory policy.

Product stewardship is a waste management strategy designed to ensure shared responsibility for the health and environmental impacts of a product through all stages of its lifecycle.

The PSA outlines three levels of regulation: mandatory, co-regulatory – joint industry and government delivery and voluntary.

There are currently no mandatory schemes under the PSA and just one co-regulatory scheme, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS).

When the act commenced, two voluntary schemes were accredited, MobileMuster and Flurocycle. MobileMuster has recently renewed its accreditation for a further five years.

Outside of the act there are a number of industry-run national product stewardship schemes with Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approval including Paintback, Tyre Stewardship Australia and DrumMUSTER.

The act was required to be reviewed by the Department of the Environment and Energy five years after commencement and in 2017 that time came. Waste Management Review talks to industry stakeholders about gaps in the present scheme and the potential for improvement.

THE REVIEW

Following submissions from interested parties, the Department of Environment and Energy’s official consultation paper, released in March 2018, outlined five areas of reference.

First, the review would attempt to assess the extent to which the PSA’s objectives were being met and whether they remained relevant. Second, it would address the effectiveness of voluntary scheme accreditation and the minister’s annual product list, followed by an evaluation of the operation and scope of the NTCRS.

Additionally, the paper highlights an assessment of how the PSA interacts with other federal, state and territory policies and how international and domestic experiences of product stewardship could inform more effective legislation.

“If the review finds legislative changes are warranted, work to implement the changes, including refinement of options, regulatory impact analysis and development of regulatory amendments would be undertaken in 2018-19, subject to the minister’s agreement,” the paper reads.

According to National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read, problems stem not from the legislation, but from a lack of federal and departmental leadership.

“The lack of leadership in implementing the act has resulted in five, and soon to be seven, different container deposit schemes rather than a single national policy – plus inconsistent state bans on plastic shopping bags,” Rose says.

“The failure to address these two product groups at a national level under the PSA has increased implementation and compliance costs for all involved governments, producers, retailers and service providers.”

Additionally, Rose says government has provided little encouragement to companies seeking accreditation or promotion of existing schemes.

“The continued belief by the previous Federal Government that schemes should be voluntary reflects a lack of commitment or understanding of what is required to deliver an effective product stewardship scheme,” Rose says.

“Very few industries can implement these schemes without some basic regulation to ensure a level playing field for these companies.”

Rose says following the review, the NWRIC would like to see amendments to voluntary clauses, to enable a clearer pathway to accreditation. She adds the NWRIC would also like to see more government support and promotion for participating organisations. Rose hopes the Federal Government’s $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund will be adequately resourced to put appropriate regulatory frameworks in place.

TELEVISION AND COMPUTERS

The NTCRS was established alongside the PSA in 2011, with the aim of granting households and small businesses access to free industry-funded collection and recycling services.

According to Rose, over 94 per cent of importers contribute to the program, which covers more than 140 companies. She adds the collection rate for televisions and computers has jumped from 18 per cent in 2011 to over 62 per cent in 2018 as a result of the scheme.

“The companies involved in the program are investing an estimated $25 million a year to provide this service,” Rose says.

“On average, around 35 million products within the scope of the scheme are imported each year. That translates to an estimated average cost of $0.70 per unit imported.”

In 2017, the government engaged the Australian Continuous Improvement Group to undertake an evaluation of the NTCRS. It was designed to inform the official statutory review, and at the time of print, is the only published outcome.

The evaluation deemed the scheme largely efficient, but raised concerns over industry pricing and scaling factors.

“NTCRS was designed to allow multiple co-regulatory arrangements, so liable parties and recyclers are able to shop around for the best commercial deal,” the evaluation reads.

“In the opinion of stakeholders, prices have dropped, at least partially, as a result – raising concerns that services and standards are being compromised, particularly when it comes to downstream services.”

Ewaste Watch director and co-founder John Gertsakis says the NTCRS, which has recycled approximately 230,000 tonnes of electronic waste since it began, is one of the more successful elements of the PSA.

John says while the scheme is successful, there is still significant scope for improvement in the areas of community awareness and education, improved access in regional areas, and better collaboration between the co-regulatory arrangements.

According to John, several stakeholders have asked for the NTCRS to be expanded to include batteries and a range of additional electronic products.

“The community is absolutely ready for effective regulation where there are no industry funded schemes,” he says.

“The solution for batteries, in my opinion, is a regulated scheme under the PSA.”

Rose and the NWRIC agree and have called for a regulated scheme for batteries by 2020.

“The NWRIC would like to see the scope of the NTCRS broadened to include all products with a cord or battery, consistent with the recent Victorian e-waste ban and a separate regulation for batteries,” Rose says.

John suggests the NTCRS could be also be useful mechanism for sustainable solar photovoltaic panel (PV) management.

In 2016 PV systems were added to the PSA’s priority list, meaning they were being considered for scheme design. Sustainability Victoria is conducting research into the viability of a system of shared responsibility.

Sustainability Victoria’s Director of Resource Recovery Matt Genever says work on assessing stewardship options for PV systems is well underway.

“We’ve consulted broadly across industry and government and there is genuine support for a stewardship approach that will build a sustainable PV recycling market in Australia,” Matt says.

Matt says that the delays in reviewing the PSA by the Federal Government have caused some issues.

“This is an area of waste policy that absolutely needs strong leadership from the Commonwealth, as it can’t just work on a state-by-state basis. Product stewardship is one of the few areas that has national legislation and it’s clear that in its current state, the act isn’t delivering to its full potential.”

BATTERIES

Battery Stewardship Council (BSC) CEO Libby Chaplin highlights independent research that shows a voluntary scheme with light regulation to address free riders would be the most effective and viable option for batteries.

According to Libby, a proposed battery stewardship scheme is currently out for public consultation. She adds that in December 2018 all state, territory and federal ministers agreed all batteries must be included in the proposed scheme.

“We are keen to see a rapid improvement of this unacceptably low battery collection rate and have proposed a different approach to other schemes,” Libby says.

Libby says BSC’s proposal would run on an importer levy of four cents per equivalent battery (24 grams) and leverage existing collection channels.

“We are working on a rebate model, whereby members commit to a number of quality, environmental and safety requirements and then eligible for scheme funded rebates,” she says.

“This approach will now be the focus of consultation beyond BSC members, with an application for Australian Competition and Consumer Commission authorisation scheduled later this year.”

Libby says that establishing a battery stewardship scheme is essential, whether voluntary or regulated.

PRIORITY PRODUCTS

One of the PSA’s key devices is the annual product list, which outlines goods that might come up for scheme consideration the following year.

According to the PSA review consultation paper, publishing the list serves two purposes. First, it provides certainty to community and the business sector about what is being considered for coverage. Second, the act requires a 12-month notification for a class of products to be considered for accreditation or regulation.

Despite this, the list provides no promise of action and while the PSA requires an explanation of why a product has been added, it does not require an explanation for why a product has been removed.

Soft Landing Mattress Product Stewardship General Manager Janelle Wallace says the accreditation process is a good concept. However, she doesn’t believe it has been well marketed.

Janelle says the act doesn’t acknowledge the costs to local government of managing more complex and often hazardous waste streams, including mattresses, at landfill.

Soft Landing’s submission to the review made multiple recommendations, including a greater focus on durability during product design and wider consideration for the extended supply chain, from raw materials to consumers.

According to Janelle, Soft Landing would also like to see more consideration of bulky and inconvenient waste.

As a voluntary scheme, Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) has committed $4 million towards market development initiatives. It performs an accreditation and compliance program which focuses on the verification of the scheme across its 1700 participants. However TSA CEO Lina Goodman believes there needs to be more intervention from government.

“Whilst TSA has made significant in-roads within its verification, accreditation and market development programs, the heavy lifting associated with waste tyres remains in the hands of eight tyre importers,” Lina says.

She says the scheme can go only so far without government support or intervention, encouraging government to consider addressing the issue of free riders.

“The time is now for regulatory intervention that will address free riders. Some tyre importers are enjoying the benefits of the scheme without taking responsibility for the product they distribute to market.”

She says that this will have a positive impact and assist in switching the focus on local innovation that will drive greater consumption of material for domestically engineered products.

When speaking with Waste Management Review, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia CEO Gayle Sloan called the current PSA a “toothless tiger”.

“There are not enough schemes in operation and developing models for products such as batteries takes far too long,” Gayle says.

“The Federal Government needs to step up, lean in and drive change – there is a lot of opportunity to improve.”

Gayle says an issue with the current PSA is a lack of extended producer responsibility. She adds the system places problematic waste accountability squarely on the resource recovery industry.

“When a product enters the market, it needs to be recyclable, repairable or reusable,” Gayle says.

“Anything that doesn’t fall within those definitions via readily available structures needs its own source separation system, which needs to be funded by those who brought it to market.”

Additionally, Gayle says there needs to be a complete paradigm shift on voluntary schemes.

“The industry needs to be really honest with itself about what is working and what isn’t. Structural change will not occur by funding individual organisations.”

Equilibrium conducted an analysis of the cost of mandatory product stewardship schemes on consumers for the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

The analysis made approximations based on standard product unit types and estimated that mandatory schemes would cost consumers up to $1.85 for e-waste, $16.50 for mattresses and $4.00 for tyres.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel says the new data shows consumers can recycle products and items affordably.

“In all cases, the cost of recycling these items is likely to be lower than two per cent of their consumer price. Therefore, cost concerns should not be a key barrier to action by our policy-makers,” he says.

Brooke Donnelly, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO, says the Product Stewardship Act review is an important and timely piece of work, and APCO supports the Federal Government’s efforts. Brooke says APCO believes all organisations must ultimately take responsibility for the products they create. However, there are a range of ways these systems can be delivered.

“To move forward, we need to take an agile approach that explores a range of alternative models that are best suited to fix specific material/product challenges and the external environment in which they operate,” Brooke says.

“We must look beyond the populist rhetoric and really test the value and impact various approaches can provide in a systemic and considered way. Fundamental to effective product stewardship is to ensure equality, accountability and transparency across the various approaches.”

THE MINISTER’S PERSPECTIVE

Drawing on his experience as President of the National Retail Association, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans says industry is best placed to understand the complexities of product stewardship.

When asked by Waste Management Review whether government was in a position to reveal whether it was looking into developing more mandatory schemes, Trevor said not yet.

“There is always a debate around the nature of the scheme, in terms of whether they are industry-led, voluntary or mandatory. It is very much a ‘horses for courses’ approach,” Trevor says.

“Mandatory schemes are one option, but they are not the only policy tool that government has in its arsenal.”

Trevor says the final report with recommendations is expected to be presented to the meeting of environment ministers towards the end of the year.

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Composting remains our biggest recycling opportunity

With all the recent discussion about plastic exports, it’s easy to forget that organics remains our single largest recycling opportunity, writes Rose Read CEO of the National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

The numbers speak for themselves, according to the National Waste Report, Australia generated 30 million tonnes of organic material in 2016-17. Of this mass, about 6.7 million tonnes went to landfill (or 22 per cent) of which around 43 per cent is food waste according to the National Food Waste Baseline Report.

What are the benefits of composting?

There are many benefits to composting organics over sending them to landfill. Firstly, composting helps to recover nutrients and organic material that can regenerate soils, critical to agricultural productivity. Secondly, diverting organics from landfill reduces greenhouse gas emissions, odour and leachate.

Composting can also save council’s and ratepayers considerable expense. In the case of councils and shires that already have a kerbside garden organics recovery services, food can also be added at little cost, which currently can make up as much as 40 per cent of a kerbside rubbish bin.

Where is composting today?

Currently, about 42 per cent of households nationally have access to kerbside organics collection service according to the National Waste Report and 15 per cent have access to food and garden collection Services (FOGO).

South Australian households have the highest access to organic kerbside collections at 92 per cent, NSW 60 per cent and Victoria 56 per cent as reported by the federal Department of Environment and Energy in its report ‘Analysis of Australia’s municipal recycling infrastructure capacity’.

Strategically, each jurisdiction has a different approach to advancing their organics recovery and only Victoria has a dedicated organics resource recovery strategy. Overall, each state government has resource recovery targets for the next decade in the order of 65 per cent to 75 per cent for commercial and municipal streams. To achieve these targets the majority of tonnage will have to come from diverting organics including food waste to composting.

In terms of investment, NSW has the single largest funding program for organics recovery, with around $9 million per annum from 2017 to 2021 as part of the Waste Less, Recycle More. Victoria recently completed a $3.3 million organics recovery program and is currently focused on implementing its e-waste landfill ban and recycling challenges.

While Queensland does not have a specific organics’ program, funding is available through its Resource Recovery Industry Development Program. A key element of Western Australia’s new 2030 waste avoidance and resource recovery strategy is to have a consistent three bin kerbside collection system, including separation of food and garden organics from other waste categories, to be provided by all local governments in the Perth and Peel region by 2025.

How can we accelerate the diversion of organics from landfill in Australia?

While there is clear intent by each state and territory government to divert food and organics from landfill, the NWRIC, in consultation with the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) has developed a four-part plan on how best to advance the composting sector.

1. Develop markets for compost

Further development of urban municipal and commercial markets has the potential to utilise large volumes of compost. Key markets include mine site rehabilitation and urban redevelopment such as highways. However, long term, agriculture has the potential to be the largest market for compost, improving soil carbon, providing healthy soils and promoting sustainable food production. Coordinated research and action that links organics diversion with the direct benefits of compost and soil carbon in agriculture is required to develop this market.

2. Long term planning for siting and protecting organic recycling facilities

In order to meet the recycling targets proposed in the state and national waste policies, Australia will need many new organics recycling facilities. The creation of organics recycling facilities requires appropriate sites and surrounding land buffers that are protected for the life of their operation. It is important that these sites are provisioned for in local and state government plans.

3. Reduce contamination in municipal and commercial waste derived compost

Compost derived from household and commercial bins can be contaminated with plastics and other undesirable materials. Through improved education and product stewardship, contamination can be reduced, and clean compost produced. Equally important will be ensuring that all compostable packaging used complies with Australian Standards for home composting AS 5810-2010 and or industrial composting AS 4736-2006 and is clearly labelled.

4. Enforcement of nationally consistent standards for the outputs from organics processing.

While most operators manufacture high quality organic products the presence of substandard products and facilities can undermine the market and damage consumer confidence. Therefore, the enforcement the existing standard for composting output AS4454 – 2012, Composts, soil conditioners and mulches is critical.

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NWRIC presents at ALGA general assembly

At the Australian Local Government Association’s (ALGA) Your Community, Your Environment presentation, National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read highlighted the need to promote a shared approach to resource recovery and circular economies.

The presentation was held as part of ALGA’s National General Assembly in Canberra. Other speakers included APCO Government Partnership Manager Peter Brisbane, Planet Ark Head of Sustainable Resource Programs Ryan Collins, Lake Macquarie Council Deputy CEO Tony Farrell and Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan.

“Industry and local councils can work together to put recycling back on a sustainable pathway,” Ms Read said.

“Central to this shared approach are activities that will reduce contamination, such as consistent statewide community education programs, smarter ways to separate materials at source, removing toxic and dangerous items from bins and upgrading re-processing capacity at material recovery facilities.”

In addressing plastics, Ms Read identified a number of steps to help material recycling facilities remain viable.

“We need to upgrade our recycling facilities and sorting and reprocessing capacity, so they can produce higher quality outputs that meet producer specifications,” Ms Read said.

“It is vital that local, state and federal governments procure recovered mixed plastics for civil construction, and that packaging companies are required to meet minimum recycled content.”

Ms Read said there is also opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and improve soil quality if local councils work with industry, to set up food and organic collection services and composting facilities.

“Key to the success of increased organics recovery will be preventing contamination, establishing local markets for the compost produced and planning for recycling precincts in local council areas,” Ms Read said.

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Think tank asks if Victoria’s ready for the e-waste ban?

With just over a month to go, Ewaste Watch questions how prepared Victoria is to realise the benefits of the e-waste landfill ban.

Victoria will become the third jurisdiction in Australia to ban e-waste from landfill on 1 July, following in the footsteps of the ACT and South Australia.

Ewaste Watch director Rose Read said while the state government has made efforts to increase the number of convenient drop-off locations, she is unsure if communities and businesses are sufficiently aware of new collection points.

Ms Read also said critical questions had not been answered, including, will householders and businesses have to pay for the recycling? What controls are in place to ensure waste is properly recycled? What will happen to data left on electronic items? And can householders and businesses take their electronic goods back to manufacturers for free recycling?

“Finally, will local councils who are left to implement the landfill ban be able to field the many questions and provide collection services that meet the expectations of residents and businesses?” Ms Read said.

“If not, there is a real risk we may see an increase in illegal dumping, problematic stockpiling and general non-compliance with the ban.”

Ewaste Watch’s second Director John Gertsakis believes the ban is only one part of the e-waste solution, and that federal government must expand the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to include all electronic and electrical products not covered by an industry product stewardship scheme.

“Councils need the support of manufacturers, brands and retailers to ensure recycling is free, and that community-friendly options are provided for electronics reuse, repair and recycling,” Mr Gertsakis said.

“The Victorian e-waste ban is a great opportunity to adjust consumer behaviour, build a circular economy and provide a clear signal to the electronics and battery industries to produce more durable and sustainable goods.”

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NWRIC welcomes Coalition waste policy

The National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has issued a statement of support for the Coalition’s proposed waste and recycling policy.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the Coalition’s recent policy announcement would help facilitate a cleaner environment for all Australians.

“The announcement reveals a federal election which has seen the biggest tri-partisan commitment to waste and recycling in Australian history,” Ms Read said.

“The Coalition’s promises follow equally welcome commitments by the Labor Party and the Greens.”

Ms Read highlighted the Coalition’s $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund, Product Stewardship Investment Fund, $20 million investment in new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and commitment to continue working with state, territory and local governments on opportunities to get more recycled content into road construction.

Ms Read said while party commitments vary in focus and values, the lead up to the election has seen a recognition of the waste and recycling challenges facing Australia.

“This is welcome news for all Australians because irrespective of who they vote for, they all put their bins out,” Ms Read said.

“Furthermore industry’s priorities are clear, more jobs, better services and less pollution – there is really nothing to disagree with about delivering this essential community service.”

NWRIC is concerned however about the lack of targets for government procurement of recycled goods, incentives to producers to increase recycled content in their products and packaging or willingness to drive state harmonisation of waste regulations and levies.

“Having six states and two territories enforcing different laws, levies and standards limits industry investment in innovative waste management and resource recovery infrastructure and services essential to building a circular economy,” Ms Read said.

“Good policy combined with funding is the key to effective outcomes and greater certainty for industry investment.”

Ms Read said for the proposed Product Stewardship investment to achieve meaningful outcomes, it must be underpinned by smart, simple regulations that create a level playing field and ensure full producer engagement.

“The National Waste Recycling Industry Council is calling for the appointment of a National Waste Commissioner to drive these necessary reforms and a tri-partisan approach to harmonising the regulations framing our industry,” Ms Read said.

“This process has been a clear success for work health and safety and heavy vehicle laws.”

Ms Read said every household and business in Australia purchases waste services and most purchase recycling services.

“The Commonwealth can cut costs for all Australians and stimulate industry investment by driving collaboration between states, industry and producers and essential regulatory reforms,” Ms Read said.

“It is critical that whichever party wins the upcoming federal election that they work proactively with industry to create jobs, serve communities, protect workers and reduce pollution.”

Earlier in the election cycle NWRIC similarly praised Labor’s policy commitments, specifically noting the development of a national container deposit scheme, National Waste Commissioner and the $60 million investment in a National Recycling Fund.

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New think-tank launches to combat E-waste

A new independent think-tank Ewaste Watch will launch this Friday with the aim of protecting community health and the environment through accelerating levels of electronics sustainability.

Ewaste Watch will focus on three key questions, are we doing enough? can we do better? and what are the solutions beyond recycling?

The think tank is calling on federal Environment Minister Melissa Price to expand the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to include all products with a plug or a battery, and ensure that end-of-life electronics are diverted from landfill.

Ewaste Watch is also calling on Ms Price to create a regulated national recycling scheme for all handheld batteries under the Commonwealth Product Stewardship Act.

Ewaste Watch Director and co-founder John Gertsakis said Australian’s are globally the fourth highest generators of e-waste per capita, producing over 23.6 kilograms per inhabitant or 574,000 tonnes per annum.

According Mr Gertsakis, the world generates 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste a year, with only 20 percent being recycled through appropriate channels.

Mr Gertsakis said there is a lack of effective collaboration, research and action on how to effectively deal with the rapid growth of electronics and the associated socio-environmental impacts.

“Electronic products are proliferating in society, and in many ways have become an extension of us that we take for granted,” Mr Gertsakis said.

“The reality however, is that recycling alone will not deliver the sustainable outcomes and materials conservation required. Greater attention is needed on product durability, reuse, repair, sharing and productive material-use to turn the tide on ewaste and create circular electronics.”

The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme regulated under the Commonwealth Product Stewardship Act has collected and recycled 291,280 tonnes — roughly 42 per cent of waste arising — of TV and computer ewaste since its creation in 2011.

Mr Gertsakis said this doesn’t include a variety of other end-of-life electronics, most of which are still ending up in landfill.

“There are few if any collection, reuse or recycling options for small appliances, power-tools, photovoltaic panels, handheld batteries and a growing number of consumer electronics devices,” Mr Gertsakis said.

According to Mr Gertsakis, Australian’s import 100,000 tonnes of televisions, computers, printers and computer accessories each year, roughly 35 million pieces of electronic equipment per annum.

“The Federal Government must require any company placing Internet of Things devices on the Australian market to provide a detailed plan for the reuse and recycling of these devices when they are damaged, replaced or reach end-of-life — including how such plans will be funded,” Mr Gertsakis said.

Ewaste Watch’s second Director and co-founder Rose Read said the think-tank will inform, educate, engage and activate key stakeholders across the electronics life-cycle, from design and manufacturing through to retail, government and the general public.

“Business as usual and voluntary programs have barely made a dent in the total volume of ewaste arising, so the urgency for step-change improvement, new business models and positive disruption is now overwhelmingly obvious,” Ms Read said.

“Circular solutions for electronics across the complete product life-cycle is a cornerstone for Ewaste Watch, as is the need to empower consumers to buy less, choose well and make it last.”

Ewaste Watch’s activities will include attention to social and consumer aspects, product design, cleaner production, smart logistics, innovative consumption models such as sharing economies and collaborative consumption, reuse, repair and recycling.

Ms Read said Ewaste Watch will achieve this through knowledge sharing, policy analysis, consumer education, exhibitions and public activations.

Ewaste Watch will collaborate closely with its research partner the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney, with Professor of Resource Futures Damien Giurco chairing the Ewaste Watch advisory group.

Ewaste Watch will be officially launched by War on Waste presenter Craig Reucassel at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures.

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The NWRIC’s visionary policy

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council CEO Rose Read highlights the association’s priorities in 2019 and its long-term plan for resource recovery in Australia. 

Read moreThe NWRIC’s visionary policy

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